Valdosta Daily Times

November 5, 2012

Matthew Thurlow, the pastry-baking carpenter

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — Many in town know Matthew Thurlow as the pastry chef of Covington’s. When it comes to dessert chefs, he’s pretty much the Dalai Lama. However, what most people don’t know about Thurlow is that he is also a carpenter.

“I started building furniture 10 months ago,” said Thurlow.

It started when Thurlow had some shoddy contractors working on his house.

“I had to learn to finish all the things they started,” said Thurlow.

The projects acted as therapy for Thurlow. He had a working knowledge of tools and when those projects were done, he continued his efforts on building furniture.

“The first piece I made was a lamp out of an old house column,” said Thurlow.

Thurlow saw one like it in an overpriced store for $500 that he loved. He built his version for only $80.

“I can look at a piece of furniture and as long as it has clean, straight lines, I can build it,” said Thurlow.

After Thurlow sold a piece of furniture on Etsy — one of his favorites, it was a cocktail table that converted into a bench — he found that there was a market for his hobby.

“That kind of gave me the courage to proceed further,” said Thurlow.

However, after the hassle and the cost of shipping, he also found that Etsy was not the market for him. That’s when he went to Katie Wiggins, the owner of Chez What downtown.

“She does consignment,” said Thurlow.

It turned out to be a perfect match and Thurlow now builds exclusively for Chez What.

“She tells me what people are looking for and what they’re wanting,” said Thurlow.

Thurlow still works full-time as a pastry chef at Covington’s, so he builds furniture when he can in his spare time.

“When I get really stressed, I build more,” said Thurlow.

Like a true artist, Thurlow tends to get lost in his work. Trying to replicate the furniture that he sees has turned into somewhat of a game.

“The best part of it is trying to duplicate what I see or see if I can add something to it to make it me,” said Thurlow.

Thurlow’s talent, though newly discovered, may have been in him all the time.

“Several of my uncles as well as my grandfather were boat builders, so I’ve got that carpenter gene in me somewhere,” said Thurlow.

While Thurlow hasn’t yet made it to building boats, he has built a number of unique and functional pieces such as tables, chairs, bookshelves and more.

“The stuff I find easier for me to build is the more rustic looking primitive stuff,” said Thurlow. “The functional part just sort of happens.”

Thurlow’s own house is much like his furniture.

“There’s nothing in the house that does not serve two purposes,” said Thurlow.

Thurlow’s furniture may also subconsciously be a reflection of not just himself, but humankind in general. The wood that he chooses to use is imperfect, sometimes tattered.

“We’re all flawed,” said Thurlow. “I don’t think if I tried I could make something perfect.”

According to Thurlow, it is those imperfections that give the furniture character. Coincidentally, it is that same character that makes his furniture art.

Owners of Thurlow’s furniture, aside from the character, will also notice that the pieces are one of a kind. Even when he gets to duplicating a piece, it comes out different with his own twist. Thurlow doesn’t try to make multiples of one piece.

“I’m not a factory,” said Thurlow. “I’m human.”

Thurlow’s furniture is a wonderful reflection of American economy. It’s unique, it’s made locally and it has that rustic sort of appeal that can’t be made in China.

“I would rather stimulate the local economy here than somewhere else,” said Thurlow.

With the same entrepreneurial spirit, Thurlow is also venturing into a slew of other businesses.

“I am in the process of throwing a cookbook together and going into the business of extracts,” said Thurlow.

It has been a dream of Thurlow’s for some time to make custom blended extracts in Valdosta. Chez What, in addition to his furniture, also plans to carry Thurlow’s extracts called Maison Du Rinehart-Thurlow.

“Katie is going to have them in her store for the holidays,” said Thurlow.

While the furniture business is good and the extracts will be a new adventure, Thurlow doesn’t really have plans to leave the pastry business.

“If it turns into something, that is great, and if it doesn’t, that’s fine,” said Thurlow.

As you may have noticed, Thurlow’s a fly-by-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of guy who, like his furniture, is uniquely beautiful. He takes life as it comes and right now, life is pretty good.